Herbal Supplements: Caveat Emptor
In countries such as the United States, weight control is a very serious issue that is quite literally a matter of life and death. The U.S. population has one of the largest numbers of obese and overweight people. For this reason, there is now a huge and growing demand for quick, easy schemes to lose weight. Despite the seemingly countless “miracle” diet schemes available to the public, a product or method has yet to emerge which allows for quick, easy and physically safe weight-loss such as herbal supplements.
The most well-known herbal supplements are ephedrine or ephedra, guarana, St. John’s Wart, and Senna. They generally act as “fat burners” by boosting the metabolism. They may be successful weight loss supplements — but only in the short term. One should be warned early on about the possible side effects of these so-called “miracle” diet supplements. Like any other medications, herbal supplements are not without adverse effects. A lot of over-the-counter (OTC) herbal supplements that are readily available in pharmacies and health food stores lack the literature about the product.
Moreover, shoppers searching for dietary supplements in health food stores may get useless or even deadly advice from store clerks who are not really well-versed about the products they are selling. Some only know that the products are for weight loss and that they are needed to be sold and dispatched for business’ sake, convincing every shopper that it is, in fact, the best weight loss pill.
In the wake of Congress deregulating the health food industry with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the business of handing out unproven remedies has mushroomed to a $15 billion industry. Medical doctors and legitimate herbalists alike are becoming concerned that many people are spending their money for substances that will not help and may even hurt them.
Until recently, government oversight and consumer protection were very limited to products that were classified as dietary supplements. But new regulations contained within the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act give the FDA, the federal agency responsible for overseeing the safety of U.S. food and drug products, the authority to oversee the manufacture of domestic and foreign-made dietary supplements, including herbal supplements. The regulations require supplement manufacturers to evaluate the identity, purity, strength, and composition of their dietary supplements to ensure that they contain what their labels claim and are free of contaminants. The new regulations will be phased in over the next three years, so not all supplements are currently tested.
The fine line between selling and giving medical advice is of concern to the health food industry too, researchers say. Those who sell supplements should know their product but they should not dispense any medical advice. To be on the safe side, retailers should not go much beyond label statements.
In the current deregulated climate, consumers should educate themselves before even setting foot in a health food store, and should read up on supplements before going to the store. They should also get information from someone who is not selling the product. So when it comes to getting advice at the health food store, the quality of the advice being dispensed is anyone’s guess, and the environment is definitely agreeing one of the principles of commerce…”caveat emptor,” or “let the buyer beware.”